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Mahul – A Toxic Hell of Mumbai

Mahul is a neighbourhood in Mumbai in the Trombay area, infamously referred as a place “where the unfortunate are sent to perish”. Mahul is known as a fishing village away from the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. The state municipal authorities here have rehabilitated low-income residents. Recent reports suggest that high content of toxic elements in air and water of the area, has led to severe ailments, even death in some cases, of the rehabilitated people just within a year. The population majorly consists of Koli (fishermen) community who were the first populaces of Mumbai. There is a village market where fresh fish is available in abundance. But soon these markets have started facing various challenges due to the industrial establishments operated by BPCL and Tata in the proximity of Mahul. People used to visit this place to see flamingos on Mahul’s coast. Now, the heavy industries and sewage treatment plants like RCF, Bharat Petroleum, Hindustan Petroleum, Tata Power, Indian Oil, and Aegis Logistics surround Mahul and flamingo to fish came to hazard. In 2009, 30 people fell ill after a gas leak from a chemical plant of Aegis Logistics Ltd. However, the company denied any leaks claiming this was a false complaint created by the villagers.

A study done on the Mahul creek found that the annual average Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) level was 362.09 ppm, with the maximum tolerable level being 250 ppm set for inland surface water as well as marine coastal water. The annual average conductivity was found to be 6122.81 µS cm-1, whereas the conductivity limit for inland surface water is 1000 µS cm-1, set by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) for the propagation of fisheries. The water was also found to be strongly alkaline. The annual average hardness level of the creek water was found to be 2488.65 ppm: the limit set by ISI is 300 ppm. In 2013, a leak from a pipeline carrying crude oil was reported. This leak started in the third week of October 2013 and went unnoticed till the first week of November 2013. CSIR – National Institute of Oceanography, Mumbai conducted a study and reported that around 12 acres of mangroves had been affected. The study also concluded that the damage done impacted the breathing roots of the mangroves and since it occurred on the surface, the damage done would affect for a long time to come. The damage affected local fishermen and fisherwomen’s income, cutting them down by 50 per cent.

Around 30,000 people were relocated to the MMRDA Government colony from Powai, Ghatkopar, Chembur, Vakola, and Bandra (East) due to various projects like road-widening, metro construction and moving settlements within 10 metres of major water pipelines. People are suffering from various issues, like breathing difficulties, skin irritations, etc. due to the massive pollution issues seen around the chemical industrial complex. A BMC health official said that seven out of 20 patients who come to the clinic complained about skin diseases and 70 per cent of these were contracted after the residents had shifted to Mahul. Residents have lost their family members within years or months of moving to Mahul. There have been at least 88 deaths that have occurred in this area due to the toxic environment. Authorities play the usual blame game where the BMC blames the Government of Maharashtra and the State Government blames the previous State Government that was in power. Mahul Prakalpgrast Samiti, a group of local resident activists, has been organising people to demand remedies from the government. The Jeevan Bachao Andolan was also born out of the subsequent protests. On November 11, 2018, more than 1,000 people marched forming a human chain of approximately 3 km from Sindhuwadi Signal, Ghatkopar, which ended at Housing Minister Prakash Mehta’s home, demanding action for rehabilitation. The Minister did not come out to meet the protesters but after the protesters refused to move, he spoke to activist Medha Patkar on the phone and fixed a meeting for Nov 12, 2018. At this meeting, it was announced that a meeting with the Chief Minister will be fixed and also announced that temporary shelter will be provided at HDIL Kurla. After over a month of the ‘sit-in’ protests, on November 27, 2018, the Mahul residents organised a bike rally from Vidyavihar to Vidhan Bhavan. They stopped at the Mantralaya to put up large postcards addressed to the government, demanding rehabilitation. A day before, the residents had sent more than 500 postcards to the Chief Minister. On the same day, in the afternoon, a meeting was held with the Chief Minister to discuss the promises made earlier. The rally was held to remind and send a strong message to the government about the continued delay in concrete action by them. However, since there has been no real movement from the state, Mahul residents and Medha Patkar announced on the 35th Day of the protest (December 1, 2018) that if the Chief Minister does not shift the residents within 10 days then they will be marching in large numbers and protesting outside the State Secretariat Building.

Today (Friday) is the 55th day of the protest of Mahul people, fighting for Right to Live as per Section 21 of the Indian Constitution. On Saturday, December 15, around 7,000+ people rallied from Carnac Bunder to Azad Maidan. This involved more than 60 per cent women and children. Around 10+ slum dwellers’ groups and organisations from Colaba, Andheri, Kandivali, Mankhurd, Jogeshwari, Wadala, Sion, Chembur, etc. had participated in the rally. These slum dwellers have been protesting against the Injustice of MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), MHADA, SRA, and MMRDA on the issues like clean drinking water, housing, health, education, electricity, etc. Earlier, the government allowed the protestors to sleep on Day 1 and Day 3 in the Azad Maidan; later on, they were pushed out of Azad Maidan and made to sleep on the platforms of Mumbai CST during this severe cold season. These poor people are physically weak because of the toxic environment of Mahul.

On August 8 this year, the Bombay High Court directed the Maharashtra Government to provide alternative housing to the residents of Mahul who are facing life threats due to the toxic atmosphere in that area. Instead of coming up with some solution, the Maharashtra Government shamefully submitted in the Court that there are no houses available that can be allotted to Mahul residents. Agitated by this stand of the government, the residents of Mahul are staging an indefinite dharna since October 28. On the third day of the protest, the Shiv Sena party intervened and held a meeting with the MHADA. The president of MHADA is an MLA of Shiv Sena. Since the party is sensitive on the issue, which involves the lives of 30,000 residents, decided to handover as many houses as possible to the residents of Mahul. The MHADA president decided to allot 300 houses in the first meeting only. While two other major housing agencies — MMRDA and SRA — are under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and everyone is eagerly waiting for his decision on the same.

(Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])
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Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 14 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazine Beyond The News (international). She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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